The ally in the waiting room


Even when they leave

All the hospitalists affirmed that loved ones can make a big difference for the patient through all aspects of care. Long after a patient returns home, the support of loved ones can have a profound impact in speeding healing and improving long-term outcomes.

Dr. Esbensen said COVID-19 and other serious illnesses can leave a patient needing support, and maybe a “push” when feeling low keeps them from adhering to medical advice.

“It’s not just in the hospital but after discharge,” she said. “A person offering support can really help patients throughout their journey, and much success in recovering from illness occurs after the transition home. Having the support of that one person a patient trusts can be critical.”

Dr. Hodo believes that the coronavirus pandemic could forever change the way hospitalists communicate with patients and their loved ones.

“I work in pediatrics and we know serious medical decisions can’t be made without guardians or parents,” she said. “But in adult medicine doctors may not automatically ask the patient about calling someone for input on decision-making. With COVID, you cannot assume a patient is on their own, because there are protocols keeping people from physically being present in the patient’s room. My experience from working in adult coronavirus units is that the thinking about the loved ones’ role in patient care – and communication with them – might just change. … At least, I hope so.”

Quick takeaways for hospitalists

  • Get beyond personal protective equipment. A conversation with a patient’s loved one might be easier to achieve via phone, without all the protective gear in the way.
  • Encourage adherence. Speaking with patients and loved ones together may be more effective. They may reach agreement quicker on how best to adhere to medical advice.
  • Loved ones offer clues. They might give you a better sense of a patient’s worries, or help you to connect better with those in your care.
  • Be present. You have a long to-do list but do not let empathy fall off it, even if you feel overwhelmed.


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